Andrew Walls (1928–2021)

I am quite heavy-hearted from the news of Andrew Walls’s passing. He founded the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (now, the Centre for the Study of World Christianity), which I am a part of and now co-direct. So, at a basic level, I would not have a job if it weren’t for him. But on a deeper level, he has shaped a lot of who I am.

To be honest, I never read much of his writings until coming to Edinburgh. But after arriving, I thought I better get reading. I began learning about African Christianity, Kwame Bediako, the extent of world Christianity throughout history, and new ways of understanding the relationship between Christianity and culture.

But this was not simply academic knowledge. I was struck that my way of studying and understanding Christianity was so myopic. See, I came to Edinburgh as a scholar of Chinese Christian theology. Though my own scholarship focused on mainland China, I later realised that, as a Chinese American, I was trying to better understand my own faith as a Chinese Christian born and raised in the US. Like much of theological education in the West that tends to focus on Euro-American Christianity, I did not have a “World Christian consciousness”—that is, a way of looking at Christianity and the church mindful of the beauty of its manifold expressions around the globe and throughout time.

Due to my work, I was privileged to get to know him on a personal level. I had many meals with the him and his wife Ingrid. He was always so witty and charming and had a wonderful way with words. But he was also generous with others—students, colleagues, and friends, and passionate about his subject—creating a Centre to further its work and, when funding was cut, making sure it continued to have a life elsewhere, in Edinburgh and in new incarnations in Liverpool and Ghana. There were also a few times he even entrusted me with commenting on his work—what could I say to this giant!?

Yesterday, after hearing the news of his passing, I was on a long six-hour drive. There were few words in my head, but simply the immense and intertwined feelings of sorrow and privilege.